Utahans Sue FBI & NSA for Spying

     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – The FBI and NSA criminally spied on Utahans during the 2002 Winter Olympics under President George W. Bush’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless surveillance program, six citizens claim in a class action.
     Lead plaintiff Mary Josephine Valdez sued the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, former President George W. Bush, his Vice President Dick Cheney, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and Cheney’s counsel David Addington, on Tuesday in Federal Court.
     Valdez worked for the Small Business Administration in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.
     She was joined by five other named plaintiffs: Howard Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association and a state senator; Deeda Seed, special project coordinator with the Salt Lake City public library system; Daniel Darger, a lawyer and owner of the now-defunct blues club Dead Goat Saloon; prize-winning editor William Grant Bagley; and Thomas Nelson Huckin, a professor of English and director of the University of Utah writing program.
     They claim the NSA and FBI recorded the length, times and telephone numbers of their telephone calls during the 2002 Winter Olympics, and subjected Internet providers to warrantless surveillance, interception and key word spotting analysis.
     “In mid-December 2005, it was disclosed that then-President Bush, since October 2001, had authorized and ordered the NSA, in a program known within the NSA as ‘Stellar Wind’ and within the executive branch as ‘the President’s Surveillance Program’ or simply as ‘the Program,’ to engage in widespread, warrantless, unconstitutional, felonious surveillance of email, text, internet, and telephone communications in the United States,” the lawsuit states.
     “Since then, it has been disclosed that then-Vice President Cheney and his legal counsel Addington were instrumental in authorizing and encouraging the illegal and unconstitutional surveillance, with Addington drafting a secret written authorization for NSA Director Hayden to keep in his safe.”
     Bush, Cheney and Addington “well knew” that this “widespread, warrantless” surveillance, without probable cause, was unconstitutional, the plaintiffs say. But Bush “deceptively led the public to believe that constitutional requirements for surveillance were being followed,” in 2004 and 2005.
     “The Patriot Act helps us defeat our enemies while safeguarding civil liberties for all Americans,” Bush said on July 20, 2005, as cited in the complaint. “The judicial branch has a strong oversight role in the application of the Patriot Act. Law enforcement officers need a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, or to track his calls, or to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of the tools we’re talking about. And they are fully consistent with the Constitution of the United States.”
     The plaintiffs say the NSA stored their data during the “mass warrantless program” and may access it at any time.
     “In light of the practice and philosophy of the NSA to hoard everything obtained through surveillance, plaintiffs believe that the communications illegally and unconstitutionally subjected to surveillance, interception, and key-word spotting analysis are presently unlawfully stored by the NSA, subject to unlawful access at any time in the future,” the 38-page complaint states.
     Former Justice Department attorney Thomas Tamm tipped off The New York Times to Stellar Wind as an anonymous whistleblower, in 2005.
     His role was confirmed and he started speaking out publicly in 2008.
     “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government – and the public – ought to know about. So they could decide: Do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?” Tamm told Newsweek. “If somebody were to say, ‘Who am I to do that?’ I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.”
     Tamm added: “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family.”
     Federal agencies and plaintiffs’ counsel did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
     Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympic Games from Feb. 8 to 24 in 2002.
     Scandal rocked the event in 1998, when International Olympic Committee members were accused of taking bribes from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee during the bidding process. The allegations resulted in the expulsion of several IOC members, and the adoption of new IOC rules.
     The Justice Department also brought charges against the leaders of Salt Lake’s bid committee – all of whom were acquitted.
     The plaintiffs estimate the proposed class numbers in the “several hundred thousands, if not a million or more.”
     Class members include telecom services users who sent or received phone calls, text messages, or emails from or to anywhere in Salt Lake City or within a one-mile radius of any other 2002 Winter Olympics venue, from Dec. 1, 2001 to Feb. 24, 2002.
     The plaintiffs seek class certification and punitive damages for constitutional, common law and statutory violations.
     They claim Stellar Wind violated the First and Fourth Amendments, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Wiretap Act, Stored Communications Act, Privacy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
     They are represented by Ross Anderson with Winder & Counsel.

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